Originally Published 2004-09-29 09:33:28 Published on Sep 29, 2004
The question of Palestine has been on the global agenda since 1947. It predates the current phenomenon of global terrorism and is not synonymous with it. It is nevertheless the principal cause of instability in West Asia.
Terrorism: Does Palestine hold the key?
The question of Palestine has been on the global agenda since 1947. It predates the current phenomenon of global terrorism and is not synonymous with it. It is nevertheless the principal cause of instability in West Asia.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The problem of Palestine was conceived in diplomacy and to this day remains trapped in it. Compulsions of Allied strategy during World War I propelled it forward. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was the winning card that sealed the bargain.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Thus was concocted the fiction of "a land without people" being awarded to "a people without land". Demography was disregarded; it was changed in the period of British rule (1920-1947), and has continued to be changed since 1948 under Israeli rule.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Over a generation, cynical power considerations combined with the power of media transformed perceptions and placed the victim in the dock. It needed a Gandhi, in the 1930s, to identify and pronounce upon the core issue: "Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English and France to the French." Gandhiji's wisdom did not prevail.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The majority in the UN voted for partition, the state of Israel came into existence in 1948 and 6,55,000 Palestinians became refugees. The war of 1967 aggravated matters. All Palestinian land became occupied territory, the number of refugees swelled to 4 million.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Israel also started the policy of erecting settlements in Palestinian territory, in order to change the ground reality. The UN has repeatedly declared these settlements illegal.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> It took the revolt of 1988 for the Palestinians to be recognised as a people with national rights, rather than as mere refugees. The Oslo Accord of 1993 paved the way forward, but Israel procrastinated. This resulted in a second revolt. It continues to this day. The Taba negotiations in January 2001 indicated that agreement could be reached on most issues.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The Sharon government disowned it. It has also failed to go through with the Road Map proposed by the Quartet in June 2003. Israel's policy is to delay a solution, create more settlements, squeeze the Palestinians economically, and impose a victor's peace at a time of its choosing.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Palestinians consider this unacceptable; and so does public opinion in Arab and Muslim countries and increasingly in the rest of the world. It is no secret that Israeli intransigence is sustained by US support for an unjust cause.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This has radicalised opinion and led to the rise of militant groups whose quest for justice in Palestine leads them to use violence to fight injustice, and who have now turned their ire on Arab governments friendly to the US. The delay in resolving the problem has thus become the catalyst for militancy.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The American political system must accept this ground reality and so must the politically powerful right-wing opinion in Israel. Denial of Palestinian rights, by force or fraud, cannot win peace.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Is there a way out? There is universal agreement that a two-state solution on the basis of long-standing UN decisions, premised on the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war - subject to freely negotiated adjustments - is the way out.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The convergence of positions in the Taba negotiations is indicative of what is possible. The same message emanated from the civil society-initiated Geneva Agreement of November 2003. An agreement would give Israel peace, secure and recognised borders, and access to West Asian markets.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Thinking Israelis must recall the words of Abba Eban: "It is not in the nature of a modern democracy to rule over two million members of a different nation without offering them either equal justice as citizens or a chance to establish their separate jurisdiction."&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The Palestinians, on their part, must accept the limits of what is possible. Heroism and sacrifice must give way to patient nation-building.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> What can India do? The Indian position is reiterated year after year in the UN General Assembly. Nehru said in 1954 that India could play a helpful role at an appropriate time. Fifty years on, and with good relations with both sides, a low-profile initiative in furthering the quest for a just, mutually acceptable solution on the basis of the convergence already recorded, may be a good way of joining hands with friends of both, the world over, to nudge peace-making forward.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> C UDAY BHASKAR, Officiating Director, Institute for Defence Studies &amp; Analyses&nbsp; <br /> Concern about terrorism and its global manifestation has acquired a certain directionality after the reprehensible tragedy in Beslan, Russia, early September, which was followed by the third anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy that jolted the US and the world at large.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This is predictable and the electoral compulsions of the Bush campaign in the US presidential sweepstakes have resulted in the dominant global media packaging the threat of terror in a certain manner.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The pattern of terrorist violence in recent months has included many incidents in different parts of the world, and Asia has been particularly affected.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, India and Pakistan - to name but a few - are some of the states where terrorist-related violence occurs on a regular basis. However, it would be misleading to infer that Palestine is the core from which global terror emanates and it is the key to 'stamp out global terror'.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This inference would presuppose that global terrorism has only one cause and catalyst - namely the Palestine issue - and that its resolution would lead to a terror-free world. This is empirically invalid.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Terrorism and groups that indulge and support such activity are varied in geographical scope and ideological motivation and many have little or no connection to West Asia, the Arab world and or Palestine. Such predication would also lead to a distorted generalisation that is embedded in many constituencies - namely that all terrorism is 'Islamic/Muslim' in nature and a variation of 'jehad'. Such facile assumptions ought to be firmly rejected.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> However, there is no denying that one form of terrorism exudes these characteristics - that of radical religious extremism of the Islamic variant - and it has been more visible and virulent over the past 25 years and the events of 9/11 have served to focus greater attention on this phenomenon.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> It is in this context that Palestine becomes relevant. The Palestine issue is complex and has become even more tangled and bloody with every passing year as the positions of the Israeli government and the response of the PLO have become more inflexible over land and peace.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> There is a strong perception in many parts of the world that the Palestinians have been denied justice for decades and that they have been reduced to a humiliating status by the Israeli security establishment.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This struggle, with the passage of time, has acquired certain supra-state, ethno-religious characteristics and has become a symbol of oppression of the Arab people by western imperialism and perfidy.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This sense of injustice and outrage has fuelled the Arab/Muslim sentiment for years and this has been kept alive for a variety of reasons - some of which are cynical and manipulative.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Thus it would be more valid to suggest that an equ-itable resolution of the Palestine issue would assuage the inflamed Arab/Muslim/anti-Israel sentiment across the region.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Regrettably, assuaging of such sentiment or a removal of the Palestinian causus belli will not directly translate into the disappearance of global terrorism. For instance, will the Chechen terrorists lay down their arms?&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The answer is no. In like fashion, would the LTTE in Sri Lanka or the 'jehadi' terrorist in Kashmir be swayed by Palestine alone? Again - no.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Thus one of the central tenets of the pattern of global terrorism that merits reiteration is that the causation of terrorism is more often than not local, but the causes that fan this scourge or catalyse it can be regional and global.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> And Palestine is a fire that is deliberately stoked to generate a sense of indignation and outrage among those constituencies which can be encouraged to take recourse to terrorism against Israel, the US, the ubiquitous West and the Jewish-Christian combine.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> India has extended principled support to the people of Palestine over the years and the special welcome accorded to Yasser Arafat in 1982 at the New Delhi NAM Summit under the stewardship of the late Indira Gandhi, is case in point. However, at this stage, India's ability to effectively mediate in the Palestine issue is limited and hasty initiatives, however, well-meaning, may prove to be imprudent.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Palestine is inexorably linked to the larger Jewish diaspora - particularly in the US - and this determinant adds to the inherent intractability of the issue.&nbsp; <br /> (Views are personal)&nbsp; <br /> <br /> AJAI SAHNI, Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management&nbsp; <br /> The proposition that Palestine is the key to stamp out global terror reflects extraordinary simple-mindedness and complete ignorance, both of the nature of the&nbsp; <br /> Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as of the complexity and magnitude of the threat of global terrorism.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> While the 'Palestine question' and the 'crusader-Zionist alliance' often recur in Islamist extremist rhetoric, Palestine has remained peripheral to international Islamist terrorism.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The 'war against Jews and Crusaders' as Osama bin Laden's declaration described it, finds its inspiration in wider historical and ideological interpretations that are unrelated to the Palestine question, and that have sought to exploit every possible source of supposed 'Muslim grievances'.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Though transnational Islamist groups have focused on a number of territorial conflicts in different regions, territorial concessions are only transient objectives for terrorists inspired by the ideology of extremist political Islam.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This is an exclusi-onary, intolerant and totalitarian ideology that regards as irreconcilable enemies, not only all unbelievers, but also the many classes of 'fallen' or 'deviant' Muslims - variously categorised as apostates, reprobates and hypocrites. A possible 'resolution' of the 'Palestinian issue' will do nothing to defuse these wider movements.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> There is, however, another and often unnoticed sense in which 'Palestine' has been key to the evolution of contemporary terrorism. Terrorism across the world today is founded on the 'success' of Palestinian terrorism in the 1960s and early 1970s, after which Yasser Arafat was allowed to make the transition from terrorist to 'world statesman', an 'international leader' who addressed the UN Gene-ral Assembly in 1974.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> That succession of eve-nts sent out an unmistakable message to every militant gang-lord and political thug: it was possible to become a 'great leader' and have your own little quasi nation-state by murdering a few hundred or a few thousand people, and your record as a terrorist and mass murderer would not be held against you.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This was the worst possible message to send out to ambitious and ruthless people, impatient with the mechanisms of lawful and democratic resolution of their 'grievances'. If this is the case, a 'resolution' of Palestine under the shadow of terror would only reinforce the essential message that 'terrorism works'.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The most significant misconception, however, is the belief that the 'Palestine issue' is a simple, unitary problem, and, consequently, has a simple and unique solution. This, in fact, was the premise of the Oslo Peace Process, widely projected as a model for peace negotiations worldwide, and which peddled the notion that the 'solution' lay in simply cutting up the available territory into unequal bits of exclusively administered zones.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The 'Palestine issue' is, in fact, immensely complex, rooted in a long and fractious history, in the geopolitical ambitions and manipulation of both the Arab states and the 'Great Powers', and in an entrenched culture of fanaticism and extreme hatred across the region, rigorously and systematically fanned on a daily basis.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Edward Said, a long-time supporter of the idea of the Palestinian state, eventually conceded the irreducible nature of the conflict in its contemporary context, and wrote: "Only by facing the inherent contradiction between what in effect is a theocratic and ethnic exclusivism on the one hand and genuine democracy on the other can there be any hope for reconciliation and peace in Israel/Palestine."&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This does not, of course, mean that there should be no efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, or to secure even a working peace. But such efforts should not be delusionary. If they are based on false premises, they can, at best, defer a greater violence.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Meddling by external actors in recent years, unfortunately, has only pushed forward utterly unrealistic 'formulae', many of these with questionable motives.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Crucially, to predicate our responses to global terror on the resolution of perhaps the most intractable of contemporary conflicts would be near-suicidal for the free world. The 'key to stamp out global terror' lies in the realisation that there is, in fact, no magical key, but a multiplicity of coordinated responses that are bound to test our will and imagination to their very limits over years to come.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> <em>The author is a former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations and former Vice Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University. He is presently Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation.</em> <br /> <br /> Courtesy: Economic Times, New Delhi, September 28, 2004. <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em>
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